Plays to Love, Plays to Hate looks at the most significant plays in swinging momentum and impacting the eventual outcome of the game. There is always plenty to hate about NFL officiating, so we will only focus on the plays on the field, not the refs.
Three plays to love
The Situation: The Panthers trailed 3-0 in the first quarter. After getting stuffed on 4th-and-1 on their first drive, Carolina’s offense took the field for the second time looking to get some early points.
The Play: Curtis Samuel ran a double move down the left sideline and got separation. Cam Newton launched a deep pass toward the speedy receiver who hauled in a 44-yard gain. It was the first deep pass Cam had completed since about the Civil War, which was a good sign. The play set up a field goal to tie the game 3-3.
1st Quarter 0:51 – Panthers 3, Bucs 3. Bucs punt from TB 34
The Situation: With the score still tied 3-3 the Panthers defense forced a stop. Ray-Ray McCloud entered the game to return the punt.
The Play: McCloud muffed the punt which bounced right off his chest. Donte Jackson was blocking near McCloud and alertly jumped on the loose ball at the Carolina 22. A Bucs recovery near the red zone would’ve likely resulted in either a field goal or a touchdown, so Donte’s timely play helped avert a potential disaster. Kudos, D-Jax.
4th Quarter 13:45 – Panthers 12, Bucs 17. Panthers punt from CAR 48
The Situation: Trailing 17-12 early in the fourth quarter the Panthers offense sputtered out yet again and were forced to punt.
The Play(s): Michael Palardy boomed a perfect punt that was downed at the three yard line, pinning the Bucs near their own end zone. Two plays later Luke Kuechly burst through the line and dropped Peyton Barber for a safety, closing the Panthers deficit to just a field goal at 17-14. On a day when the offense was hot garbage, these two points were huge.
Three plays to hate
3rd Quarter 6:40 – Panthers 12, Bucs 10. Bucs ball 1st-and-10 at TB 46
The Situation: The Panthers doinked in a 51-yard field goal to take a 12-10 lead in the third quarter. Jameis Winston and the Bucs offense took possession and looked to pull ahead.
The Play: Winston launched a deep pass near Luke Kuechly in coverage. Luke extended his arms, got both hands on the ball and...dropped it. While it wasn’t necessarily an easy interception, it’s a play Kuechly normally makes. After the failed interception, Tampa Bay continued their drive which ended with a touchdown and a 17-12 Bucs lead. An interception here could’ve changed the complexion of the second half.
4th Quarter 6:17 – Panthers 14, Bucs 17. Bucs ball 3rd-and-8 at the 50 yard line
The Situation: The Panthers trailed by three points midway through the fourth quarter. Carolina’s defense forced a critical 3rd-and-8 and a stop would’ve generated a big change of possession.
The Play: Javien Elliott dropped into zone coverage, gave Chris Godwin a buffer, then granted Godwin a free release toward the sideline. Godwin’s easy 14-yard reception resulted in a first down, extending a drive that culminated with a field goal and a 20-14 Bucs lead. It also allowed the Bucs to burn around three additional minutes of precious fourth quarter clock. Instead of the Panthers taking possession down 17-14 with around 5:30 left, they ultimately got the ball back down 20-14 with just 2:26 remaining.
4th Quarter 1:28 – Panthers 14, Bucs 20. Panthers ball 4th-and-1 at TB 2
The Situation: With the game on the line and down six points, Carolina needed to convert on 4th-and-1 from the Tampa Bay 2 to either create a 1st-and-Goal or, ideally, punch it into the end zone and take a 21-20 lead.
The Play: Cam Newton went in motion right and Christian McCaffrey took a direct snap. CMC ran a sweep toward the left sideline as the offensive line failed to open a hole. With Bucs defenders forming a wall, McCaffrey lunged and tried to stretch the ball forward for a first down but was stopped short. Game over.
Closing it out and summing it up
Ugh. Two games into the season and it already feels like the year is lost. If the Panthers can’t “eat a W” against the lowly Bucs at home on a short week, who can they beat? Going back to last season Carolina is now 1-9 over their last 10 games with their only win coming in a meaningless Week 17 contest against a New Orleans Saints team that sat its starters. While Cam Newton hasn’t been fully healthy over that span, welcome to the gauntlet that is the NFL. If “you are what your record says you are” then the Panthers are the worst team in the league right now. This is officially embarrassing.
Carolina’s offense was impotent and failed to score a single touchdown. Daryl Williams got destroyed at left tackle in pass protection while the entire offensive line failed to open running lanes. Cam was wildly inaccurate and once again failed to to anything on the ground. The Panthers offense went 0-for-3 on 4th-and-Short opportunities, which is inexcusable with Cam as your quarterback. The one positive from this mess was seeing Greg Olsen come up big.
On defense Luke Kuechly proved again why he is the most impactful defensive player in the NFL, despite the dropped interception. It was baffling to see Jameis Winston pick apart the Panthers secondary throughout the game.
While there are no easy wins in professional football, this was a game the Panthers absolutely had to win in order to bolster their playoff hopes later in the season. With 14 games left to play - and only six at home - Carolina has already dug themselves into a deep, deep hole. Let’s hope they’re willing to start climbing.
Which play to hate had the biggest impact on the Panthers loss?
This poll is closed
3rd Q - Luke drops interception, Bucs score touchdown for 17-12 lead
4th Q - Javien Elliott gives up a first down on 3rd-and-8, Bucs kick field goal to go up 20-14
4th Q - Christian McCaffrey gets stuffed on 4th-and-1 with the game on the line